How Does Stress Affect Your Body?

How Does Stress Affect Your Body?

If you’re feeling stressed, join the party. The reasons behind that stressed-out feeling differ for each person. Some talk about it, others don’t.

But there’s one thing people have in common: When you’re stressed, you’ll feel it in your body. That’s because your mental and physical response to stress go hand in hand.

Signs of Stress in Your Body

Knowing the common signs of stress can help you handle them. That’s important because stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.

Head and Mood: Stress alters memory and many other brain functions, like mood and anxiety. That’s why you may get a headache or feel forgetful and disorganized.

Heart: Stress may lead to chest pain or a fast heartbeat. It can cause high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It may also put you at higher risk for heart disease.

Stomach and Digestion: Stress touches the brain-gut link. It may set off pain, bloating and other gut issues. Stress can change digestion and affect what nutrients your body absorbs when you eat. It can also make you eat too much or too little.

Back: Anxiety and stress can lead to muscle tension and cause back, shoulder and neck pain. You may hunch your shoulders, causing pain through your upper and middle back. Many people exercise less when stressed, too. Sitting for hours can strain the spine and low-back muscles.

Whole Body: Physical warnings of stress include aches and pains, insomnia, frequent colds, headaches, fatigue and infections. You may even experience nervousness and shaking, dry mouth, clenched jaw, and teeth grinding.

Next Steps

Make it a priority to handle your stress. People tend to deal with the stress in unhealthy ways, like overeating, smoking or misusing drugs and alcohol, that lead to more problems. It’s important to pay attention to how you respond to stress and make sure you find healthy ways to manage it.

Be sure to get regular activity, get enough sleep and eat healthy food. Make time to relax with deep breathing, yoga or meditation. Set aside time for yourself when you can enjoy your hobbies, read or listen to music.

Americans Are Stressed Out

The American Psychological Association’s 2022 Stress in America poll leaving site icon shows that stress levels are high for most Americans.

Over a third of adults reported that they feel overwhelmed by stress on most days. More than half of young (ages 18 to 34) women (62 percent) and men (51 percent) reported that they feel completely overwhelmed by stress most days. And about half of adults ages 35 to 44 said they feel overwhelmed on most days.

The poll also found that most people are stressed about things outside of their personal control. The poll found that Americans are feeling the most anxiety about big issues like inflation, violence, civil liberties, the government, racial inequality and the future of our country.

Over 75 percent of respondents said that stress negatively impacts their lives. Some effects reported included mental health issues, worse eating habits, less interest in activities, and health problems like headaches and fatigue.

Sources: Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2021; Protect your brain from stress, leaving site icon Harvard Medical School, 2021; Stress and Heart Health, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2021; Stress Effects on the Body, leaving site icon American Psychological Association, 2023; Easy tips to relieve stress-related neck and back pain, leaving site icon UT Southwestern Medical Center, 2019; Stress Symptoms, leaving site icon WedMD, 2021; Stress in America 2022, leaving site icon American Psychological Association, 2022

Originally published 4/14/2020; Revised 2022, 2023

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